Tsai Ing-wen elected Taiwan’s First Female President

Tsai Ing-wen (C), waves to supporters at DPP headquarters after her election victory on January 16, 2016 in Taipei, Taiwan. Tsai Ing-wen, the chairwoman of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, has won the presidential election to become the Taiwan's first female president. Getty Images

Tsai Ing-wen has made history as Taiwan’s first female president. The 59-year-old leader of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won in a landslide victory in January 2016.

In her victory speech, Tsai vowed to preserve the status quo in relations with China. However, she also called for Beijing to respect Taiwan's democracy and argued that both sides must ensure there are no provocations.

China and Taiwan—officially known the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China, respectively –were separated in 1949 after the Communist victory on the mainland. China believes that Taiwan is a runaway province and has vowed to bring it back under its control. Indeed, Beijing has missiles pointed at the island.

The DPP is Taiwan’s largest opposition party. One of their main party platforms is their independence from mainland China. Thus, Tsai Ing-wen’s victory spells defeat not only for the ruling pro-China Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalist Party but likely also for China. Time will tell what Tsai’s presidency will mean for the already contentious ties between the two countries.

Who is Tsai Ing-wen?

Tsai grew up in Fenggang, a village in southern Taiwan, before she moved to Taipei as a teenager. She went on to study at National Taiwan University. Tsai also holds a Master of Laws from Cornell University and a PhD in Law from the London School of Economics.

Before her current role as chairperson of the DPP, Tsai was a college professor and trade negotiator. She has also held several positions within the DPP: she was appointed as chairperson of the Mainland Affairs Council in 2000 and vice-premier in 2006. She was first elected as party chair in 2008 and was re-elected in 2014 after receiving 93.78% of the vote.

In a 2015 speech to the Council on Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., she reflected on whether Taiwan was open to the possibility of a woman president, saying:

"Of course, there are some people in Taiwan that are still rather traditional and they have some hesitation in considering a woman president. But among the younger generation, I think they are generally excited about the idea of having a woman leader. They think it is rather trendy."

To that end, Tsai has not been shy about supporting women’s issues and initiatives. Tsai routinely addressed women’s leadership, workplace equality, and female participation in politics in her campaign speeches. In July 2015, she addressed a forum of female undergraduates and professionals gathered at her alma mater, National Taiwan University. There she outlined the work she had done to advance the rights of women during her political career—including supporting the “Gender Equality in Employment Act.”

Tsai has also been a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues. And when she’s not busy running a country, she likes to relax with her two cats, Tsai Hsiang Hsiang and Ah Tsai.

Moving Forward

Tsai’s election likely signals a more progressive shift in Taiwan’s political trajectory. Taiwanese are becoming wary of China’s attempt to control the country and are looking for a government to spend less time playing nice with the mainland and more time fixing the island nation’s economic woes.

For example, in 2014, hundreds of students occupied the Taiwanese parliament in the largest show of anti-China sentiment on the island in years. This protest was called the Sunflower Movement, in which protesters demanded more transparency in trade negotiations with China.

As President-elect Tsai said on the night of her victory, “The results today tell me the people want to see a government that is willing to listen to people, that is more transparent and accountable and a government that is more capable of leading us past our current challenges and taking care of those in need.”